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California’s Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Vernon closes

When I arrived before dawn at the pork processing plant, I could see the lights of downtown Los Angeles twinkling a few miles to the north. It was one of those heavy, dark mornings – one with a thick sea layer that so many of us Southern Californians know to expect in the summer.

I’m not new to the area, but I’m new to The New York Times. I joined the paper in June after spending eight years at the Los Angeles Times, where I worked as a national correspondent. Before that, I covered politics and state politics at the Denver Post, a newspaper I grew up reading as a Colorado native.

Now, as an economics correspondent for the Times, based in Los Angeles, I’ll travel West and write about this diverse and dynamic part of the country and its economic challenges.

So when I read that Smithfield Foods would close an iconic meatpacking plant in Vernon – a factory town not far from downtown Los Angeles – and about 1,800 people would lose their jobs, I kept coming back to two questions: why was it necessary, and what will happen to the workers?

Today I published an article summarizing the shutdown debate and who is to blame – the company or California?

Smithfield officials told me that the escalating costs of doing business in California led to their decision. State leaders say the claim doesn’t match reality, noting that California’s economic growth has outpaced that of the nation and the state has remained the nation’s tech capital.

The Smithfield factory, associated with the Farmer John brand, dates back to 1931 and is known for its huge mural depicting a pastoral rural landscape that transports you away from the concrete corridors of Vernon. For decades Farmer John produced the very famous Dodger Dog.

More than 80 percent of the plant’s employees are Latinos, a mix of immigrants and first-generation natives. Most are over 50 years old.

Outside, I visited Teresa Robles, 57, who has worked here since 2018. She makes $17.85 an hour cutting tripe almost every day.

She knew the history of the factory, and when rumors began in early June that it would close, she quickly grew concerned. She wondered if someone would offer her a reliable job at her age and if she would ever find work at a comparable salary.

“They’re kicking us out with no answers,” Robles told me, fighting back tears.

The factory is expected to close early next year. The workers’ union says it is trying to find new jobs for its members and a buyer for the factory. I’ll watch what happens next.

Kurtis Lee is an economics correspondent for the Times, based in Los Angeles.

Today’s travel tip comes from Steve Mullen, who recommends a classic LA route:

“If you want outstanding ocean views, drive south from Santa Monica and when you get to the hills leading up to the Palisades, do your obligatory rubber on the right side of your car for spectacular views of the SoCal coastline You will look north from the Palisades with the beaches of Redondo, Hermosa, Manhattan and Venice/Santa Monica all in view along a crescent of sand holding back the great Pacific Ocean.This is California’s golden coast and the beaches where the surfing comes from, the beach barbecues and the Beach Boys.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.

A lucky Californian just won the lottery – literally.

A Mega Millions ticket worth $4.2 million was sold at a Vons in northeast Fresno, ABC 30 reports. It was the only ticket in California that matched all five numbers drawn on Friday. (However, that didn’t match the $1.28 billion Mega Ball.)

Thanks for reading. We will be back tomorrow.

PS Here today’s mini crosswordand a clue: Animal symbol of Cancer (4 letters).

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can join the team at

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